Authors: José Maria de Eça de Queirós

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Last reviewed: June 2018

Portuguese novelist and short-story writer.

November 25, 1845

Póvoa do Varzim, Portugal

August 16, 1900

Paris, France


José Maria de Eça de Queirós (originally spelled Queiroz; Queirós is the modernized version) is generally regarded as Portugal’s most important author of prose fiction. Eça de Queirós was born an illegitimate child. His parents were later married, but he spent most of his childhood and adolescence separated from them. He completed secondary studies in Oporto and in 1865 received a law degree at the University of Coimbra, where he witnessed extensive polemics about the status of Portuguese literature and the ideas of positivism. After practicing law for a short period and directing a political journal, Eça de Queirós traveled to Egypt to attend the opening ceremonies of the Suez Canal in 1869 and then to the Holy Land, experiences which are reflected in his writings. Upon returning to Portugal, he became an intellectual activist. He was one of the principal organizers of a historic colloquium on modern thought in Lisbon, delivering an address titled “O realismo como nova expressão da arte” (Realism as a new expression of art) in 1871. In this address the author argued for the moral and social roles of the artist, who should seek to better society by portraying it without traditional biases.

José Maria de Eça de Queirós.

By Photographia Contemporanea In O Contemporâneo, Biblioteca Nacional de Portugal, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

While publishing continually, Eça de Queirós made a career of diplomacy; he served in Havana, Newcastle, and Bristol before settling in Paris in 1888. There he was married and found the tranquillity necessary to devote himself to his career in literature. He met Émile Zola, to whom he was compared by several contemporaries. Others have compared him to Stendhal and Benito Pérez Galdós. Eça de Queirós spent the last days of his life in France. Many of his stories, travel diaries, and letters were published posthumously. Contemporary interest in his fiction was stimulated with the 1980 publication of A tragédia da rua das Flores (The Tragedy of the Street of Flowers, 2000), a work of long fiction that Eça de Queirós had left in manuscript form. In 1988, a major Portuguese critic challenged the assumptions that Eça had completed work on this novel and that he intended the work to be published.

The work of Eça de Queirós is customarily divided into three phases. In what may be termed the author’s preparatory phase (1866–75), he published journalistic articles and late romantic stories. These initial years reveal an impetuous young writer in the process of developing a forceful style and a critical posture. In his realist phase (1875–88), Eça de Queirós superseded the sentimentalism of romance and instituted the realist novel in Portuguese letters. The author aimed at a social anatomy of contemporary problems, combating literarily the structures and values of society’s fundamental institutions, the monarchy and the church, as well as those of the bourgeoisie. He sought to create characters whose actions would be symbolic. Rather than exceptional individuals, Eça de Queirós’s literary figures tend to be social types, representing institutions or particular aspects of the historical environment. While O crime do Padre Amaro (1875; The Sin of Father Amaro, 1962) centers on a case of clerical impropriety, the narrow-mindedness of provincial life and the undue influence of local oligarchies are also exposed. The classic realist theme of adultery is treated in O primo Basílio (1878; Cousin Bazilio , 1953), which is reminiscent of Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary (1857). The extramarital intrigue of a woman fond of popular romantic literature is a springboard to investigate bourgeois marriages of convenience and the consequences of ignoring the education of women. While A relíquia (1887; The Relic, 1925) takes place mostly outside Portugal, the questions of religious hypocrisy the work raises were quite relevant to local nineteenth century reality. Os Maias (1888; The Maias, 1965) is Eça de Queirós’s most ambitious work. In this vast treatment of Lisbon’s high society, the author applies his characteristic irony to politicians and their ignorance, financiers and their influence on government, the ostentatious behavior of the new rich, the shallowness of social climbers, and the futility of romantic imagination. In all these works, Eça de Queirós focuses on customs, moral values, and exterior appearances, favoring a social psychology and adopting a consistently critical posture.

Eça de Queirós’s mature phase (1888–1900) reveals fictional worlds beyond orthodox realism and the iconoclasm associated with it. The fundamentally scientific approach of observation, documentation, and diagnostic commentary moves toward a more general humanitarianism with frequent spiritual overtones. The corrosive irony of earlier works becomes tempered, as the seemingly pessimistic outlook of the grand social portraits gives way to more constructive and hopeful attitudes. A ilustre casa de Ramires (1900; The Illustrious House of Ramires, 1968), built around the common novelistic structure of genealogy, frames a historical romance of picturesque medieval content, which is being written by the protagonist. While there are ambivalent and humorous elements, aristocratic personages, with their attempts to regenerate senses of heroism and achievement, are treated with evident sympathy. The work is by no means a simplistic appeal to patriotism, but it can be read as an effort to uphold integrity and to stimulate national pride and respect. A cidade e as serras (1901; The City and the Mountains, 1955), in turn, offers a kind of neopastoral optimism. Eça de Queirós contrasts urban (especially Parisian) and rustic settings in an apology for the latter. Without the excesses of romantic style or exaggerations of romantic thought, the novel communicates an idealistic message: happiness and fulfillment can best be achieved in bucolic surroundings, far from the distractions and corruption of urban civilization.

Eça de Queirós was a prolific writer of stories, novels, letters, criticism, travel literature, and social commentary. As a consummate stylist, he is considered to have initiated modernity in Portugal and, along with Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis of Brazil, in the Portuguese language. While Eça de Queirós’s nonfiction writing is consistently insightful, it concerns a Portuguese public above all. The stories and novels he left achieved a more universal plane and have been translated into more than a dozen languages; they clearly merit recognition in the canon of nineteenth-century European fiction.

Author Works Long Fiction: O mistério da estrada de Sintra, 1870 (serial), 1884 (book; with Ramalho Ortigão) O crime do Padre Amaro, 1875 (The Sin of Father Amaro, 1962; also known as The Crime of Father Amaro: Scenes from the Religious Life, 2002) O primo Basílio, 1878 (Dragon’s Teeth, 1889; also known as Cousin Bazilio, 1953) O mandarim, 1880 (The Mandarin, 1965) A relíquia, 1887 (The Relic, 1925) Os Maias, 1888 (The Maias, 1965) A correspondência de Fradique Mendes, 1900 (The Correspondence of Fradique Mendes, 2011) A ilustre casa de Ramires, 1900 (The Illustrious House of Ramires, 1968) A cidade e as serras, 1901 (The City and the Mountains, 1955) Alves & c.a , 1925 (Alves and Co., 1988; also known as The Yellow Sofa, 1993) A capital, 1925 (To the Capital, 1995) O conde de Abranhos, 1925 A tragédia da rua das Flores, 1980 (written 1877–78; The Tragedy of the Street of Flowers, 2000) Short Fiction: Contos, 1902 Cartas inéditas de Fradique Mendes e mais páginas esquecidas, 1929 The Mandarin, and Other Stories, 1965 (Richard Franko Goldman, translator) The Mandarin, and Other Stories, 2009 (Margaret Jull Costa, translator) Nonfiction: Uma campanha alegre, 1890–91 (2 volumes) Dicionário de milagres, 1900 (unfinished) Prosas bárbaras, 1903 Cartas de Inglaterra, 1905 (Letters from England, 1970; also known as Eça’s English Letters, 2000) Ecos de Paris, 1905 Cartas familiares e bilhetes de Paris, 1893–1896, 1907 Notas contemporâneas, 1909 Ultimas páginas, 1912 A catástrofe, 1925 Correspondência, 1925 O Egypto, notas de viagem, 1926 Cronicas de Londres, 1944 Prosas esquecidas, 1965–66 (5 volumes; Alberto Machado da Rosa, editor) Folhas soltas, 1966 A emigração como força civilizadora, 1979 Miscellaneous: Obras de Eça de Queiroz, 1946–48 (15 volumes) Bibliography Coleman, Alexander. Eça de Queirós and European Realism. New York UP, 1980. A biography placing Eça de Queirós in the context of his literary contemporaries, focusing on his promotion of realism as a literary genre. Demetz, Peter. “Eça de Queiróz as a Literary Critic.” Comparative Literature, vol. 19, no. 4, 1967, pp. 289–307. One of the few studies in English of Eça de Queirós’s nonfiction. Pritchett, Victor Sawdon. The Myth Makers: Essays on European, Russian, and South American Novelists. Chatto and Windus, 1979. Eça de Queirós is discussed. Stevens, James R. “Eça and Flaubert.” Luso-Brazilian Review, vol. 3, no. 1, 1966, pp. 47–61. Discusses the two masters of realism.

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